February 19, 2023

Police car in a mirror

Driving a vehicle carelessly over the posted speed limit can cause serious consequences. That’s why reckless driving is punishable, to reduce its occurrence and thus increase the safety of individuals as well as property.

In this article, we’ll explain the definition of reckless driving in Texas and how it’s penalized. We’ll even go over specific cases that could complicate this conviction.

How Do Texas Laws Define Reckless Driving?

We’ll start by explaining how Texas law defines reckless driving and what constitutes it.

Reckless driving is outlined in Texas Transportation Code section 545.401. It states that reckless driving occurs when an individual operates a vehicle with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

In other words, if a person speeds or acts carelessly with a vehicle intentionally or unprovoked, he’ll fall under the laws in this section.

It’s important to note that reckless driving laws in Texas apply to public roads, highways, parking lots, garages, and other public places.

There are several scenarios where a person could be charged for this act. Some of the situations highlighted in Texas laws included:

  • Driving at a speed that significantly exceeds the posted limit
  • Cutting through traffic
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Unpredictable driving behavior (dangerously changing lanes)
  • Street racing
  • Speeding in hazardous road conditions (snow, rain, etc.)
  • Endangering the lives and property of others
  • Evading police officers

As you’ll see in a moment, not all scenarios are handled the same way. In fact, some of them may exacerbate the case of reckless driving.

What Are the Penalties for Reckless Driving in Texas?

Now we’ll move on to the penalties people face in Texas if they’re charged with reckless driving. In this regard, Texas is one of the most lenient states in the U.S.

In Texas, reckless driving isn’t treated as a felony unless it’s associated with the actions discussed in the following section. This act is classified as a misdemeanor offense, which carries the following penalties:

1.   Fine, Jail or Both

There are three possibilities for punishment depending on the circumstances of the case. The first possibility is to pay a fine of not more than $200. The second is to spend up to 30 days in county jail. The third is facing both the fine and confinement charges.

2.   Recorded Criminal Charge

Reckless driving is a criminal charge, which means it can appear on your criminal record. It’s not like any other minor traffic offense. Thus, the penalty of getting points on the license and then having them removed after a certain period doesn’t apply in this case.

This type of conviction may remain on your record indefinitely. This means that it’ll impact many aspects of your life. For example, car insurance rates may rise, and the likelihood of finding work or adopting a child may fall.

Not to mention that having it on your criminal record could increase the severity of the punishments for future convictions.

3.   Potential License Suspension

Section 521.292 states that reckless driving can result in license suspension in certain conditions. Three of these conditions are as follows:

  • Having a history of reckless or negligent driving
  • Being a habitual violator of the traffic laws
  • Being responsible for an accident that causes serious bodily harm or property damage

A habitual traffic violator is defined by law as someone who commits at least four different moving violations in 12 months. It also applies to individuals who have committed seven moving violations in the last 24 months. The license could be suspended for 90 days in both cases.

If a suspension hearing for administrative license revocation (ALR) was requested, this time frame could be reduced.

Man being pulled over

What Can Complicate a Reckless Driving Case in Texas?

In the final section, we’ll discuss when a reckless driving case in Texas can incur more penalties or become a felony. Three major contexts can complicate this conviction:

1.   Injuries or Death

Reckless driving that causes injury or death has a high likelihood of becoming a felony. The injured party has the legal right to file a personal injury lawsuit and seek financial restitution.

If the victim wins this lawsuit, the offender may be forced to pay a large sum of money. It will vary depending on the circumstances, but they will be primarily liable for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and so on.

On a side note, if the offender has a history of speeding and reckless driving, they are unlikely to win this case.

If death occurs, certain family members of the deceased may sue the offender for wrongful death.

2.   Racing

The penalties could increase if racing is involved. Racing is a Class B misdemeanor under Section 545.420. However, it can progress to a Class A misdemeanor under certain conditions, including:

  • Intoxication
  • Prior racing history
  • Possession of an open alcoholic container

A Class A misdemeanor in Texas can result in a maximum $4,000 fine, up to one year in county jail, or both.

In the event of an injury or death, the police will seize the offender’s vehicle. In this case, the conviction will naturally escalate to a third or second-degree felony based on the severity of the harm done.

This means that the offender could spend up to 20 years in prison and be fined up to $10,000.

3.   Evading a Police Officer

If reckless driving is combined with fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, the laws of Section 545.421 will apply. Evading a police officer is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $2,000, up to 180 days in prison, or both.

While fleeing, if the offender puts other people’s lives in danger, the offense will escalate to a Class A misdemeanor.

Bottom Line

Always follow the safety requirements of the road you’re driving on. Otherwise, you risk endangering your own and others’ lives.

If you’ve been involved in a case of reckless driving in Texas, whether as an offender or a victim, seek legal counsel from The Napier Law Firm today. Call 713-470-4097 and get in touch with an experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Texas.